Barra Airport is a very special place for any aviation enthusiasts: the airport located on the largest island of the Outer Hebrides is the only one worldwide, which has scheduled services on a sandy runway – the airport is only open for operation if lower tides allow planes to take off and land. The only scheduled service is done by Loganair, who operate two daily connections from Glasgow Airport. I was gifted to do the trip at remarkable weather in early September 2019. Here is my review.
Loganair Barra Flights – At Glasgow Airport
As there are comparably frequent flight cancellations, all Loganair tickets to and from Barra are booked in the highest possible Fly Flex Plus fare. My return ticket on the same day was roughly 160 GBP. If Loganair is not just about to serve some of their continental destinations, the check-in at Glasgow is very easy. The nice thing about Fly Flex Plus, however, is that you have access to the Fast Lane at security and to the Upper Deck Lounge. The lounge was comparably crowded, as it also serves the intercontinental services in the morning. Howoever, it is still a huge treat compared to staying somewhere at the airport.
Loganair Barra Flights – Fleet and Flights
Barra Airport only allows to operate STOL planes (Short Take Off and Landing). Loganair operates two kinds of planes, which can be used for the flights to Barra: the Britten-Norman Islander, however, will only be used in exceptional cases. The British government owns two DHC-6 Twin Otter planes, which are leased to the Scottish Airlines, which is operating the planes.
There are typically two flights a day. The schedule is more or less changing daily. The first flight can land at Barra a couple of hours after high tide, while the second flight needs to leave the island before the water is coming back to the bay. There is a high potential of flight cancellations. On 7th September 2019, I had a very fortunate (i.e. long) time window, being scheduled to land at 11:00 and depart at 16:35. Thus, I had plenty of time to explore the island with Barra Island Tours. I flew out of Glasgow with LM 451 at 09:45 hrs and was scheduled to return at 16:35 with LM 456. The scheduled flight time for the outbound service was 75 minutes, while the inbound was thought to be five minutes quicker. The net flight time of both services was roughly one hour each.
Loganair DHC-6 Twin Otter Cabin and Service
The seat configuration of the DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Loganair contains 19 seats: the first five rows are at a 1-2 configuration, i.e. a single aisle and window seat at the left and two seats at the right of the cabin. The sixth row only features two seats at the right due to the main cabin entrance on the left hand side. At the rear wall of the cabin, there are two single seats (each at the window) in the seventh row. There are always two pilots on board. The seat pitch was surprisingly wide for a plane of that size. As my flights were used for pilot training, the first row of the cabin was blocked by a third pilot and equipment. Of course, there is no beverage service or similar on board. The plane does not feature a toilet.
Barra Airport (BRR)
Like all Scottish Island Airports, Barra Airport (ICAO: BRR) is driven by the Highlands & Islands Airport Ltd. It is located quite on the North of the Island, the next village is Eoilgarry. The bay, in which the three sandy runways are located, are in the Traigh Mhor (which simply means “Big Beach”). If the tide is high, the area is popular for cockling. The cockles also are one of the key reasons why the sand is comparably compact and suitable to serve as a runway.
The map also nicely shows the triangular-alike setting of the three runways, which are marked with poles (and signs on land). Due to the limited traffic, the pilot may more or less chose a runway in collaboraton with air traffic control. Loganair specially trains their staff for this approach – there was a training during my flight to Barra as well.
Expectedly, the airport features quite limited facilities,There is a cafe which also serves as souvenir shop. I would have loved to have more Barra articles (in general on the island, but especially here). There is a small Loganair Check-In desk and a security area. The baggage reclaim (see below) is likely the most photographed baggage reclaim area in the world. If you are early for your flight and do not fancy a drink in the cafe, you may walk to the Atlantic beach on the west or stroll along Traigh Mhor.
Flight from Glasgow to Barra
The flight departed from Gates on the lower level of the airport. Like expected, we walked to the aircraft. There was a short safety briefing. I had to put my hand luggage to the hold (likely as I was sitting at the emergency exit). Taxiing to Runway 05, i.e. towards departing in Northeasterly direction, did not take too long and gave some nice views of the airport.
Quite soon after departure, we headed Northwest. The route more or less followed the River Clyde towards the Atlantic Ocean. The view in the morning hours over the Scottish mountains and fjords was amazing. The trip was very calm as well and did not have any turbulence. You pass the city of Oban and the Sound of Mull before heading towards the Open Sea. It takes a while until you spot the Outer Hebrides on the horizon – which also tells you that it is time to decent.
The landing at Barra, of course, was the most spectacular part of the whole day trip. When you approach the bay and look through the side windows, you see the water and can hardly assume that a landing could be possible. However, looking through the cockpit window makes you significantly more optimistic. The pilots approached to runway 25, so that they landed in Southwesterly direction. The sand is really pretty solid and though you may step in water here and there, you are more or less dry at your feet when you leave the aircraft. Of course, there is a huge demand for pictures after landing – the airport staff and the crew are very friendly and welcoming and assist you.
Flight from Barra to Glasgow
The afternoon flight home was delayed by some 30 minutes and thus departed around 17:00hrs. There were significantly less pictures on that leg compared to the outbound one. One reason was that the conditions were comparably dizzy (still quite clear view, but not as good as in the morning). In addition, after having that remarkable flight with the beach landing and the great tour around Barra with Barra Island Tours, I was quite tired and used some of the time to relax. Before the trip, however, I waited for the incoming aircraft. Unfortunately, my pocket digital camera is reaching its technical limits doing approach pictures (what you especially see in the gallery):
We departed in Northwest direction on Runway 33, which is the longest possible airstrip on Barra Airport (846 meters) and quite quickly went for a right turn in Southeasterly direction. The route was very similar to the inbound one, heading along the Sound of Mull.
One key difference of the flight was that Barra Airport does no longer operate full security facilities. Your hand luggage is not screened, similar to Loganair flights around the Orkney Islands. Thus, you are directly brought to the luggage belt, no transfer without security screening in Glasgow is possible. You also receive your hand luggage at the plane and not at the luggage belt.
Loganair from Glasgow to Barra – My View
The flight – and the tour on the island – was one of the most remarkable experiences in my aviation nerd life. The flight itself is lovely (at good weather), I enjoyed the views of Scotland a lot. Being able to land on sand is fascinating. The Loganair staff is amazingly friendly, which also adds a lot of value to the experience. Thank you Barra, thank you Loganair, thank you G-HIAL – it was simply unforgettable! (and, of course, it was a Top Pick! experience…)
On Barra With Barra Island Tours
If you fancy to have some time in Barra, maybe you like my trip report from my amazing trip around the island:
Glasgow – Barra Flights – The Gallery
There are 315 major size pictures of my flights from and to Barra:
Special Flights at Flyctory.com
Here are all reports about flights, which are special in whatever way:
Flyctory.com in Glasgow
Music and more frequently brings me to Glasgow – here are some impressions: